Sunday, February 8, 2015

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA: THE MOTION PICTURE (1989) (Scream Factory Blu-ray Review)


Label: Scream Factory
Region Code: A
Rating: R
Duration: 93 Minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Video: 1080p Widescreen (1.85:1)
Director: Dwight H. Little
Cast: Alex Hyde-White, Bill Nighy, Jill Schoelen, Robert Englund, Molly Shannon, Stephanie Lawrence 

This is one a film I remember pulling off the shelf at the local VHS shop back in the day, I am sure inspired by the fact that it featured Mr. Robert "Freddy" Englund in the titular role of the Phantom. I remember enjoying it quite a bit despite not loving the Victorian setting, I was still young and had not yet discovered the Gothic joy of Hammer films so I found the period setting a bit of a bore, but I did enjoy the 80's style slasher moments. 

Now a bit older I can certainly enjoy the Victorian era setting quite a bit more having digested quite a few Hammer films through the years, it's easy to see now that the film is director Dwight H. Little's homage to those Hammer chillers of yesteryear. The operatic terror has been moved from Paris to Victorian London and it makes for an opulent setting with a wink at the Ripper murders thrown in for good measure. I was surprised just how much of the original story is present in this version, it turns out to be a very true to the original. Composer Erik Destler (Englund) makes a pact with Satan in exchange for the ability to write songs that will live on forever however, as with every Faustian bargain there's an unforeseen consequence, Destler's face is horrendously scarred.  In this version Destler wears not the standard Phantom mask but the skins of his many victims, which he sutures onto his own face to hide his hideous visage.

In the role of Christine Day we have a minor horror starlet from the '80s, Jill Schoelen, a pretty young lady who previously starred in The Stepfather and Cutting Class prior to this film. While her time in the limelight was brief she turns in a sympathetic performance as the talented opera star who Erik Destler secretly watches over and propels to stardom through fear and murder. 

A surprisingly young Bill Nighy from Shaun of the Dead makes an appearance as the owner of the opera house who dies at the hands of the Phantom when he attempts to sabotage Christine's ascent to stardom. we do get a nice array of deaths throughout, we have throat slashes, impalement, decapitation, the skinning of a victim and more, there's some decent gore but legend tells of even more grue being left on the cutting room floor to secure the R-rating but there's still plenty of bloodletting to enjoy.  

It's a fun film that feels very much like a Hammer Jack the Ripper movie filtered through the eyes of an '80s slasher and the end result is a mixed bag of of good and not so good. I enjoyed the Victorian sets and locations, the opera house, the foggy streets, the Phantom's sewer tunnel lair, all very cinematic stuff with great moody lighting.  It set a great tone and had loads of atmosphere, plus the murders are fun even if they are trimmed, they are still bloody. 

What I did not love so much was Englund in the role of the Phantom, not awful by any means but he does give a slightly overwrought performance that smacked of Freddy Krueger through and through, complete with a few unnecessary Kruger type quips. It didn't ruin the film by any means but it does lower it just a little. 

There's also the question of the romance between the character played by Schoelen and Englund, Phantom has always been a love story and you never feel like these two are falling for each other, this time around it feels like more of an obsession on the part of the Phantom and the young woman is never really swayed by his him, but I think it works for what the director wanted, but it loses that tragic love story elements along the way, which might be owed to the more slasher type tendencies of the film, no one ever fell in love with Michael Myers or Leatherface either. 

The film is also book ended by a strange contemporary wrap-a-round set in the '80s that felt unnecessary, though I did enjoy the first part quite a bit with an up and coming opera singer discovering a signature piece of music to perform at an upcoming audition, this portion features the film debut of Saturday Night Live performer Molly Shannon. There's also a nice set-up of an accident at the audition with a slow-motion shattering of a mirror that's cross cut with the spooky images of a horse drawn carriage that is well executed and leads us straight into the period setting of the 1800s,and the film ends by bringing us back to the modern day for a less than satisfying conclusion. Not an awful film, in fact it's quite an entertaining watch, and a masterpiece when compared to the Dario Argento travesty that came about a decade afterward.

Blu-ray: The Phantom of the Opera (1989) arrives on Blu-ray for the first time in the US from Scream Factory presented in the original widescreen aspect ratio (1.85:1) with a pleasing amount of film grain, there doesn't appear to have been an egregious digital noise reduction applied. The color saturation is strong and the image is crisp and nicely detailed, showcasing the period setting and garments of the era this does have the feel of a more opulent Hammer film. 

The DTS-HD Master Audio Stereo track is crisp and balanced, dialogue and score are mixed nicely with the sweeping score from composer Misha Segal never overpowering the dialogue. Optional English subtitles are included. 

Extras are slim with the main feature being a new making of documentary produced by regular Scream Factory collaborator Red Shirt Pictures, the thirty-eight minute doc features the participation of Director Dwight H. Little, Actors Robert Englund, Jill Schoelen, And Alex Hyde-White, Screenwriter Duke Sandefur, and Special Make-Up Designers John Carlr Buechler  Kevin Yagher among others. Englund is always an interesting listen and you can see he loved the role and the opportunity to break away from the role of Freddy, which at the time of this film was part of pop culture.

There's also a commentary track with Dwight H. Little And Actor Robert Englund that begins with pointing out a shortcoming of the film which resulted in the text prologue to fill in a few plot holes+ a great commentary as the two reminisce . The extras are rounded out with three-minutes of trailers, TV and radio spots plus a selection of Scream Factory trailers. 

it's pretty well known that the MPAA neutered the film and a lot of the gore was trimmed out of the final film, this was at a time when slashers were being beat-up quite badly by the rating board, unfortunately Scream Factory seem to have been unable to find the original uncut print and what we have here is the theatrical R-rated cut of the film and there are no deleted scenes on the disc. 

The disc is short on the extras but he making of doc and commentary are nice inclusions and provide a lot of info about the making of the film. My biggest beef with the release has nothing to do with picture, audio or extras on the disc but the truly awful artwork. I much preferred the previous DVD artwork and I wasn't even a huge fan of that one, this might just be the worst artwork and spine from Scream Factory to date, I am usually a fan of the packaging but not this time. . 

Special Features:

- Audio Commentary With Director Dwight H. Little And Actor Robert Englund
- Behind The Mask: The Making Of "The Phantom Of The Opera," Featuring New Interviews With Director Dwight H. Little, Actors Robert Englund, Jill Schoelen, And Alex Hyde-White, Screenwriter Duke Sandefur, Special Make-Up Designer Kevin Yagher (38 Mins)
- Theatrical Trailer (2 Mins)
- TV Spot (1 Min)
- Radio Spots (2 Mins)
- Still Gallery (5 Mins) (65 Images) 

- Scream Factory Trailers: Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh (2 Mins) , Phantom of the Paradise (2 Mins), From a whisper to a Scream (2 Mins) 

Verdict: An enjoyable version of The Phantom of the Opera with some nice Hammer-esque flourishes and '80s slasher tendencies, not a cinematic masterpiece but a fun time even if it sort of feels like Krueger of the Opera at times. The disc from Scream Factory looks and sounds great, the extras are slim but are dense and informative. If they had been able to present the film uncut that would have been quite a incentive to upgrade for those not convinced by the HD upgrade and new extras.